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Citing increased workload, Platt hires a second aide

For 20 years, as other county commissioners hired two assistants to help them, County Commissioner Jan Platt always made do with one.

The sacrifice, Platt said, saved the taxpayers money.

But now, after winning re-election to what likely will be her last term, Platt has given in. She hired a second aide last month to help her represent the county's nearly 1-million residents.

"It's facing the inevitable," Platt said.

A politician hiring a second aide normally wouldn't be remarkable. But Platt took great pride in her self-reliance. In some years, she did all of the official work on her own _ without hiring any aides.

The turning point for Platt came earlier this year when she saw her lone aide, Jerry Noland, become overloaded with work. The increase came because of e-mail, something Platt didn't have to deal with in the past.

"When I first started, the telephone and mail were the only way citizens contacted commissioners," Platt said. "But now with technology, it's non-stop."

Platt, a former schoolteacher, doesn't yet know how to use e-mail. She hasn't gotten around to using a computer on her desk, either. Her aide prints out e-mails for Platt to handle.

Because she's so well-known, Platt said she often gets more citizen calls than any other commissioner. A recent survey showed that Platt referred more citizen complaints than the other two commissioners who represent all of Hillsborough County. In three months between April and June this year, Platt handled 132 citizen problems, or 28 percent of all the referrals handled by the seven-member commission.

By comparison, countywide Commissioner Pat Frank handled 60 referrals and Commissioner Chris Hart 18.

Even with the extra help, Platt said she still plans to study all county issues by herself. "They don't do research for me," she said of her aides. "They don't do any of that sort of thing."

Platt's new aide, Charlene Ponce, who has worked as a commission aide for 10 years for three other commissioners, will work part-time and earn a portion of her annual $45,323 salary.

The average yearly salary for the 14 commission aides is $43,436.